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City of Busselton backs calls to support volunteer firefighters with PTSD extension

Warren HatelyBusselton Dunsborough Times
Volunteer firefighters are calling for the same support as their professional counterparts.
Camera IconVolunteer firefighters are calling for the same support as their professional counterparts. Credit: Supplied

The City of Busselton has backed a campaign calling for the State Government to extend post-traumatic stress disorder protections to volunteer firefighters in the region.

City chief executive Tony Nottle echoed calls from Shire of Augusta-Margaret River president Julia Meldrum saying a recent Government decision failed to consider the challenging and dangerous work volunteers undertook in regional areas.

“The City and regional WA relies heavily on volunteer responders for bush and house fires, as well as vehicle accidents and fatalities, and feel the State Government should also consider key volunteer service organisations in their deliberations,” Mr Nottle said.

Premier Roger Cook’s call — already hammered by the State Opposition — extended comprehensive cover only to full-time professional firefighters despite the South West’s reliance on volunteers to provide the same services.

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While Emergency Services Minister Stephen Dawson said volunteers in Department of Fire and Emergency Services brigades received the same presumption as paid firefighters, volunteers on the front line told the Times that support paled in comparison to that received by metropolitan career firefighting crews.

Instead, volunteers in the region’s dual-use brigades, operating under DFES, attended tragic scenes including vehicle fatalities, incidents of suicide and family homes destroyed and argued exactly the same support as professionals was needed.

Cr Meldrum said she was “extremely disappointed with the State Government’s decision” not to cover volunteer fireys as well.

“Our local volunteer firefighters face incredibly dangerous situations to protect our community and should receive the same level of support as their paid counterparts.

“These volunteers are our local heroes and protecting their health and wellbeing should be paramount.”

Those comments were backed by families of local volunteers including retired firefighters who told the Times their efforts, undertaken in the name of community service, often came with a toll.

A serving emergency services volunteer broke ranks under condition of anonymity due to their serious concern too little was done to support frontline responders, including ambulance volunteers.

The volunteer told the Times mental health concerns were often under-reported because many brigade members “dropped off the radar” when they ceased working as volunteers.

“We need this legislation to apply to us, especially in the regions,” they said.

“When people espouse the virtue-signalling RUOK day or to call Beyond Blue, what they don’t understand is that to hold someone’s hand as you know they are dying or trying to comfort a person who is trapped in a vehicle next to their deceased child is also a macabre kind of privilege.

“That privilege is also a burden and you carry that with you for life.”

Nationals MP and shadow emergency services minister Martin Aldridge said Mr Cook was happy to pose for photos alongside volunteers at fire scenes but wasn’t committed to their health and wellbeing.

However, Mr Dawson said the safety and wellbeing of emergency service volunteers was “a priority” for the Government.

“The fire and emergency services volunteers, which operate under DFES, are already covered for personal injury and PTSD under the Fire and Emergency Services Act 1998,” the minister said.

“Under these provisions, emergency services volunteers can receive financial assistance as well as mental health and wellbeing programs following an incident that presents as PSTD.”

However, volunteer sources said that support was not the same as that just extended to paid firefighters and regional fireys needed the same backing for doing the same work.

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